Posted by: stacylynn12 | March 3, 2012

Our Campesino Life

Vignettes from Our Time in Yurac Yacu.


Dear friends, perhaps you are wondering… What’s life like in the Peruvian Andes? It’s a natural curiosity I think – one that drives my desire to travel. What do people eat? What do their houses look like? How do they celebrate special occasions? Why are their doors so short? These are hard questions to answer as a traveler passing through but when one lingers awhile some things begin to be revealed. Still, life here is difficult to describe. We’ve experienced much in our time in Peru that bears no resemblance whatsoever to life at home in the US. There is nothing which I can reference or make a connection to that will help define these experiences. Yet, I will try. It is… for me… these experiences that elicit the realization that “these people”… be they Peruvians, Africans, Mexicans or Australians… are all simply people and not “those people on the other side of the world who eat weird food and dress funny”.

Our world needs more connection and less division. We need to find the crossroads of cultures, the intersections where we can come together. To do this, I think it is necessary to leave our little corner of the world. So, start planning! Pack those suitcases! But first… read on for a glimpse into “Our Campesino Life.”


Fiesta de Los Cruces

In much of Latin America, the “Festival of the Crosses” is celebrated in early May. Apparently the Peruvians don’t know this because around here it was celebrated a few weeks ago in the days leading up to the start of Lent (in Christianity, the 40 days before Easter). In rural Peru, the campesinos or people who live in the country select a family in each town to host a fiesta. The people decorate an enormous cross which then is carried to the hosts house and there it remains until the day after the fiesta when it is carried down to a church in Huaraz in a large procession.

The Cross

This year, our new friends Carlos and Nancy we’re the honored hosts. It takes days to prepare and god knows how many kilos of potatoes. Sarah and Danielle – our new friends and fellow volunteers and the boys and I offered to go help Nancy with preparations on the day before the party. On the dirt floor in Nancy’s kitchen, there were enormous piles of potatoes waiting to be peeled. A dozen or so family members were seated around the pile peeling potatoes and tossing them into equally enormous pots. Bodhi and Josh quickly employed themselves ferrying potatoes from pile to pot while Sarah, Danielle and I peeled until our hands hurt.

There were also 5 large carcasses of recently slaughtered sheep hanging in the kitchen awaiting their fate in a cauldron of traditional wheat soup.

Now let me describe the kitchen. Due to issues of water rights and the perpetual threat of a shortage, people are only allowed to have one tap on their property. I don’t know where the tap is in Nancy’s house but it’s not in the place where the food is being cooked – a large open area – partially covered with a roof but with an open air courtyard. There is a dirt floor and wood fires burning in the corner of the room. There is no sink, no countertops or cupboards, no refrigerator and certainly no dishwasher. I chuckle when Sarah tells me that Nancy actually purchased a refrigerator last year and it resides in her 2nd floor bedroom. It is one of those things that’s difficult to explain.

The following day we all made the short walk down to The Fiesta. Even though we arrived an hour after we were told the party would start, we were the first guests. Peruvians are notoriously late for fiestas. Diana ( the owner of The Lazy Dog Inn, where we have stayed the last two months ) volunteered, or was volunteered, I’m not sure which…to help cook the chicken.

Pots so big you could bathe in them… in Nancy’s kitchen.

After a while people began to trickle in. In the distance we began to hear music. It sounded a bit like a marching band but this seemed too strange to be plausible. Eventually, as the music grew louder, we followed the locals outside and began to walk toward the dirt road that winds its way up from Huaraz. Well, what to our wondering eyes should appear? A marching band. And they were on their way to our party.

The band arrives and Carlos and Nancy are greeted and decorated as celebrated hosts.

The crowd makes its way back to the house.

The rest of the party was much like the party we attended to celebrate the opening of the new classroom at the school. Food was served – enormous portions of soup followed by chicken and of course, potatoes. Great quantities of bottled beer were passed around. I’m sure there was enough for every person to have their own beer yet this is not the custom. The bottle comes to you with a cup, you pour yourself a drink, chug it, and thes toss the remaining foam on the floor as a gift to Panchamama, the Mother Earth goddess revered by indigenous Andean peoples. You then wait until the next bottle comes your way. And it comes, whether you want it or not. As the marching band played (very loudly indoors) there was much dancing and laughter.


Dancing with the band inside Carlos and Nancy’s house.

The following day the boys went with Sarah to watch the cross depart for Huaraz. It’s a long trip with a very large load. Thankfully there were many people to share the burden. Randy and I did not witness the event because…


Laguna Churup

…Thanks to the graciousness of our friend Sarah, we had an entire day all to ourselves to go on a hike! Amazing! We hiked 9 long hours and ended with two soggy, cold hours that began in the snow and turned to rain as we decended but it was an amazing day. We both love hiking with our children but the chance to get out, move at a faster pace and get into a high alpine environment is a treat we both miss. Gracias Sarah!

Randy climbing up the cliffs – cables are in place to assist in the ascent. A little sketchy at ~15,000 feet.

Arriving at Laguna Churup.

The day was sunny and warm and we lingered a bit at the lake.

Instead of taking the standard trail back down, we headed up and overland and were rewarded with even bigger views before the clouds descended.

A Dr. Seuss like plant we encountered on our way down.


Professora

I haven’t written in a while because, well, I’ve been busy. In my last post, I mentioned that I was “helping out” at the school. Since then in a twist of fate or circumstance – maybe both – I became the Head Teacher. It has been challenging. My Spanish is drastically improved since we began our travels but I’m still not sure I speak at even a preschool level. Often the children say something to me and I’m certain they are speaking in Quechua ( the local native language ) because I have no idea what they’ve said. Some things I do know however because I hear them all the time…

“Professora, prestame un lapizero?” (lend me a pen?)

“Professora, empujame!”. (push me! (on the swings))

“Professora, quiero peechy!” (This is as far as I can tell a mix of Spanish and Quechua that means, directly translated ” I want to pee!”)

When I walk through the villages I see kids and parents and they all call me Professora. I keep thinking I’ve got to get out of here soon before they all find out I’m a fraud. That I’m not a teacher at all. But the truth is, all my years working in outdoor education have prepared me well. I feel like the teacher. I love preparing the classroom for the day’s activities. I adore these kids. I love that they come to school dressed in so many layers of clothes that they all look like little toddling snowmen. I love that when they say “Quiero peechy” that you’d better hit the outhouse fast. Many of them wear belts – not a particularly preschooler friendly item – but necessary when the zipper and the clasp on your pants is broken – and they all need help to get their belt buckles undone…quickly. I love that they bring me flowers or tree branches or leaves almost every day to put in a vase on my desk. It’s going to be hard to leave.

While I’ve been busy playing Professora, Randy has been playing handy man. Everything here is hand made… as in there are no power tools. He’s planed, sanded and painted shelves for the new classroom and built a fence for the schoolyard. Oh, and he and the boys escaped to the beach for three days while I stayed behind to work. Pobrecito me.

In the classroom

Circle time – playing with Legos

Joshy works at his “desk” while I prepare for the next day.

Randy builds the fence.

Randy works on shelves for the school.

 


Quebrada Llaca

Our campesino life doesn’t really resemble the life of the Quechuan people with whom we are currently sharing a little corner of the world. For one, the Lazy Dog Inn is run by a Canadian couple and the lodge is luxuriously decked out with just about all of the North American comforts we are accustomed to. Secondly, we like to hike for fun. The local people walk every day… I would guess much further than the average American walks in a week. But they don’t walk for pleasure. They walk to the market to shop. They walk to school. They walk with their animals…taking sheep, cows, pigs and burros up to higher elevations to graze and then bringing them back down each night. I wonder if they think we are strange for simply wanting to walk in the mountains with no specific purpose or easily articulated reasons.

On a particularly lovely morning we set off in a taxi for Huascaran National Park… our destination – Quebrada Llaca (pronounced Yaca) and the Laguna (lake) at the head of the valley. We decided to taxi up as there is dirt road that winds it’s way all the way to a Refugio (climber’s hut) near the Laguna and to hike both ways – up and down – would be too much for the kids. They are sturdy, enthusiastic hikers but they have their limits. The walk down took us about 4 hours. We began in bright sunshine and finished, as we have become accustomed to, in a downpour. While Randy and I grumbled quietly to ourselves, feeling cold and miserable, the kids skipped and sang down the valley seemingly oblivious to the conditions. A few trail treats didn’t hurt. Thank goodness the Trail Fairy is alive and well in the Andes.

Laguna Llaca with Ocshapalca and Ranrapalca in the background.

Ocshapalca – photo courtesy of our friend Swamy.

Laguna Llaca

Walking up toward the glacier

Looking back down the valley

Strolling down the valley toward home

The clouds begin to fill up the valley

Entrance to the Quebrada in Huascaran National Park

Family photo by Swamy


A Visit to Tuquipayoc

Tuquipayoc… or “too-key-pai-auk” is the village, a slow 10 minute stroll from the Lazy Dog Inn. It’s where many of my students live along with several of our new friends. We had been invited by Tito – one of the men who works at at the lodge – to come and visit his home and on one Saturday we graciously accepted.

Everyone in Tuquipayoc is related. Aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, grandparents, siblings – its a web of connection. Entering the village, there are a dozen or so houses, stretched out along the trail. One doesn’t need an address to figure out where one is going in this town. We simply asked a woman we passed by…”Donde esta la Casa de Tito?” (Where is Tito’s house?”)…and she waved us further on down the trail. Soon we saw a group of people working in a field and Tito stood up and waved us over. Several of the students greeted us warmly… “Hola Professora!”. Yovanna, Tito’s daughter who also works at the lodge, asked us if we wanted to help with the harvest and then quickly disappeared into the house to prepare a meal for us. There isn’t much of a culture of sitting around and chatting.

Walking the trail to Tuquipayoc

Everyone is working on the potato harvest

Sarah (fellow volunteer and friend) and I sat down with the matriarch of the family and began to sort potatoes into piles of big, small and tiny. When we also noticed that any damaged potatoes were going in with the tiny ones, we asked what they did with those. “Chanchos”. We all had a good laugh over the fact that these tiny little potatoes fetch a premium price back in the US and Canada but here in Peru, they are pig food.

Sorting potatoes

 

Bodhi and Joshua helped with sorting potatoes but quickly got distracted playing with the other kids. A plastic truck with 2 wheels missing was a favorite toy. Things got a little hairy when they decided to build an adobe house and started swinging pick axes with wild abandon. A group of 4, 5 and 6 year olds with pick axes is enough to incite fear into the heart of any gringa mother but these Peruvians were not phased. I took a deep breath and continued sorting, secretly keeping an eye on the little builders.

Ñork digs

Bodhi digs too

After an hour or so of work we wandered up to the house to see Yovanna. I liked Yovanna from the moment I met her. She was cooking dinner one night for guests at the lodge and I was peering over her shoulder trying to sneak some secrets when she invited me to cook with her. She jokes with me a lot and her laughter is infectious. I was thrilled to be visiting her in her home but culture and customs did not make it easy.

At home in Seattle if a new friend came to visit we might sit together and have coffee, tea or wine. I might still cook a meal but it would generally be prepared in advance so that the focus could still be on conversation. Here at Yovanna’s a small table was set for 4 – Bodhi, Josh, Sarah and I (Randy had stayed back at the Lazy Dog to do some work). Yovanna served us a delicious salad, a simple soup and of course, a giant plate of potatoes, fresh from the field. We asked her to join us but the table was very small and she ended up sitting off to the side. We chatted a bit and I finally got to ask the burning question… Why are all the doors in Peru so short? She laughed and told me it was custom and matter of factly that well, Peruvians are short.

Yovanna invited us into her kitchen and I was able to confirm the rumor that the campesinos keep cuy (guinea pigs) in their kitchens. Cute little buggers that they are, they eventually become a meal as guinea pigs are a big part of the Peruvian diet. The boys got a tour of the rabbits and more cuy in cages outside. Soon it started to rain and the family came in from the field. About 8 of them squatted inside the kitchen and had their lunch.

The campesino homes I have visited have little to no furniture. There are no couches or recliners. Many of them have televisions but they are in their bedrooms. The people are not accustomed to eating at a table. They seem more at home sitting on the ground. This could just be my western romanticism but I like to think this connection to the earth is a positive thing. In our country it is easy to completely disconnect from the natural world. One never even needs to touch the earth if they do not wish to. We have concrete instead of soil. We buy our food, often greatly modified from its natural state, from a store. If we need to “work” with the earth, we have bulldozers and backhoes to take care of things. Even the poorest of people in the US do not have homes with dirt floors. In fact the opposite seems true. Many of poorest people have the least amount of access to nature, living in high rise tenements in the inner cities.

Here in Tuquipayoc, the earth clearly sustains these people. They get their hands dirty harvesting the food that will feed them. They cultivate the soil with the help of an animal instead of a machine. They are comfortable with the dirt.

Standing in Yovanna’s kitchen I couldn’t help but think that the majority of people back in the States would find it a dismal, perhaps dreadful place. I’m not sure I would be comfortable living in her home either. Yet, I also found something warm, inviting and perhaps even enviable there.

Yovanna in her kitchen

There they are… the cuy!

Deyvis and Ñork – two of “my” students. Ñork is Yovanna’s son.

 

A Donkey, A Cow, A Pig and a Tree

Sometimes things happen in the Andes that, were it not for the fact that they are real things happening to real people, they would seem a bit like a Far Side cartoon.

All in the course of a typical week… our friends Nancy and Carlos lost a cow. On their way up to the Quebrada ( valley ) to search for it they found one of their burros dead by the side of the road. Two days later they came to the house looking for Diana. They had just found their cow – who had fallen from a cliff into the river and was now also dead. Since they had no burro to haul the carcass they needed Diana’s truck. Unfortunately Diana was in Huaraz. Nancy showed up to work that night frozen to the bone after spending a long, cold, wet afternoon hauling her cow down the valley with the help of a neighbor’s burro.

The following day another local resident came looking for Diana down at the school. Her pig was in labor but was not able to birth the piglets. She wanted a ride to the vet in town. Once again Diana was already down in town. We found out the next day that the pig had died. It was not a good week for the animals near Yurak Yacu.

So then there is the tree. As I think about writing “the tree story” and I imagine someone reading it, it doesn’t seem all that funny. The short of it is that on our way up to the Lazy Dog one afternoon we had to stop the truck and wait for 20 minutes or so on the steep, dirt, one lane road for a large truck to load a tree into it. An entire, very large tree. As in, it took 10 men to haul it up into the truck bed and hang it over the windshield – branches and all. The tree was to be taken in to town to be set in a hole upright for a large celebration.

None of these stories are funny but they are the sort of thing one must stop and shake one’s head at. I mean seriously, can you imagine someone coming to your house and telling you their pig is in labor and needs a ride to the vet? Can you visualize an entire tree barreling down a steep dirt road?

These things simply don’t happen when you are living a city life in North America. And these…these difficult to articulate, nearly impossible to describe in any meaningful sort of way experiences are what we love about traveling.

I don’t have any photos of these things because well, they really aren’t the sort of things you take pictures of.

Guess you’ll just have to come see for yourself!

 


Responses

  1. You look good as a builder, Randy, instead of as the demolition guy you were seven years ago on Mark’s house. Building up is always more satisfying than tearing down. You must have a real sense of accomplishment and pride about the work you’re doing on the school. Your efforts will live on in the betterment of the lives of the children of your village and surrounding area.

    Celebrate with another helping of potatoes! …. the (major?) food of Peru. Way back in ’76 we were hitching back from a climbing trip into the Q Ishinca when we were picked up by an authentic Peruvian “potato engineer” (self proclimed). He told us about the literally hundreds of potatoe types and all the cross grafting he was involved with in attempts to improve that humble food stock.

    Gary Fredrickson (gredrickson60@msn.com)

  2. Wow! This is all so interesting and the photos so beautiful.
    Thank you for writing your experiences down and sharing them with us.
    The cuy are cute, how they sit under the cook top…

  3. Absolutely wonderful.

  4. Stacy! Much love to all of you. It’s such a joy reading about your daily adventures. Thank you for sharing them. Big huge hug from our family to yours!
    Nancy, Ray & Ian
    xoxoxoxox

  5. So glad Geoff and I got to experience a little bit of this world with you and the family. The community was lucky to have you as the Professora! if for only a couple of months. Happy travels moving on!
    Love you all, Jen and Geoff.

  6. Another great but sad story; I felt bad for all the dead animals and sad for the owners.
    Keep the stories coming.
    Lucette


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